June 25th - Seoul
What can I say? It was a year of two halves, and one of them is over. My carrier of choice Air France beckons, and I have packed my substantial bags ready for the long haul back over the absurdly enormous Mongolia, which I am hoping to experience from the seat rather than the toilet in this direction. Three hours in Paris - just time to gloat briefly in my Be The Reds T-shirt - and then sunny Birmingham, culture shock, premier league football and 'normality'.
I will not miss the mosquitoes, who have bitten me in five places overnight. There is a fatal breach in my air defences, because the TV cable is flung out of the window directly into the high-voltage noodles on the pole outside, and the mosquito screen cannot close completely as a result. I will miss my walk to work, through the frying sesame-oil breakfast smell of downstairs, past what was an old building, then big hole in the ground, then building site and now new four-storey apartment block. Breathing in as deep as possible through the nose by the jasmine bushes, and trying to keep that breath to take me past the rubbish pile, with its fish and rotting kim-chi. Past the previously strawberry now plum lorry, the ever-playing children, the bent back on herself woman, the arguing men, the telly-tubby shrine and the lotus pond. Between the tinted glass black cars that come and go up the tree-lined drive to the silent secret police building, through the bowing welcome guard of students and to my office.
I still had meetings today to finish off evaluations, and plan for the conference in July, and the fact of my afterthought visit then has taken the edge off the goodbyes, although there has still been some fantastic effusiveness. My favourite note, from a student I have to quote verbatim, 'My Dear and admirable Peter... When I met you at first, I surprised at your huge stomach, and your articulation [it was my first time to been taught by english teacher] but as time goes by your teaching impressed me...etc etc.' You can see why I love them, can't you? Most of my messages are in Korean, and will take some time to get through with a dictionary and a handkerchief.
Even if you've only skimmed the odd paragraph [and there will be a short test when I get back] you will be aware that I have enjoyed my time here. It needed to be worth it - it is a long time to desert my family - and just now I imagine the value for me at least will be far-reaching. The World Cup has so dominated June, that I have to strain to put the whole time back into my mind, but it has been a rich mixture indeed. I am really pleased with how all the important aspects have gone, and it does feel as if I am leaving something of value. I mean, when I arrived, as I reported to you, most of the people here weren't interested in football, and now that I have been here for four months they are mad about it. That can't be coincidence can it?
I hope you have enjoyed these messages, but I don't really care - as you know they are essentially for my benefit. In my fertile fantasy life I can see people the world over riding the roller-coaster of the east with me, feeling every sensation as if they were here. Every now and then more sobering pictures interrupt, of people sighing at yet another bloody message. If you are feeling glad that your hard disks will no longer be topped up by my weekly garbage, then I have to tell you it's not over yet. I have more than 2000 photos on this computer, and there is so much I haven't had time to tell you. A few hours of talking and you will be wishing you could put me safely back in your inboxes.
See you soon.
PS You may have heard that the gods [or the bookmakers, if you choose to believe the bigots at the Daily Mirror] decreed the sad but glorious ending for the background story. Grandfathers clock-like, the Korean World Cup adventure has ended exactly as mine does. 1-0 to Germany may be a bit predictable, but I think it brings a touch of gritty realism. The alternative, plucky little Korea in a glorious World Cup final against Brazil is just too Roy of the Rovers. If I included something so obviously implausible it might cast doubts on the rest of my tale. There was a two minute pause, if that, at the end of the match, a kind of 40 million person collective shrug, and the party went on anyway. Fireworks, dancing, singing, exchanging shirts. Everyone is pretty exhausted anyway, I don't think when the celebrating started two weeks ago anyone had thought they may need to pace themselves. But it is another wonderful night. The final world cup game in Korea, the play-off for 3rd and 4th is on Saturday, and their own team will be playing. July 1st has been declared a public holiday in honour of them, and July 2nd is going to be a special festival day in honour of the success of the competition. Much more of this and the reputation for hard work will be in tatters.